Taking aim on AIMS test
By now, most people in the Verde Valley have heard of AIMS, (Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards), the formidable testing tool introduced to students in grades 3, 5, 8 and high school last spring.
With scant experience under our belt, State School Superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan has temporarily suspended the AIMS high school test for graduation. The reason given for the suspension is that too many high school students did not pass the test. So what is going on?
Are Cottonwood teachers and students up to the challenge? You betcha! Our students and teachers are all top-notch, but we need the time to teach our students the standards. The AIMS test was fundamentally unfair to the high school students. It demanded that they take a test for graduation that they had not been adequately prepared for.
Why were the students not ready for the test? The Arizona Standards were written for Language Arts (reading and writing) and math by a selected group of teachers in 1996-97. All states in the union were required to have written standards if they wish to participate in the much-needed federally funded programs such as Title 1.
A new requirement from the federal government requires states to test students to determine if they are actually learning these standards.
That is why we have the AIMS test.
States, and predictably schools, that do not meet the standards will be sanctioned through the loss of federal funding. The rush to develop standards, and then the AIMS test, has placed Arizona in the position of pushing our students into a test that they have not been prepared for. If there is any blame to be handed out, it is not with our schools. The blame rests with the Arizona State Department of Education for not preparing the standards and the AIMS in a timely, well-thought-out manner.
So, do I believe the standard and the AIMS should be thrown out? Absolutely not! The Arizona Academic Standards are excellent and challenging. Our school district does want to be accountable, but we need to know what we are accountable for.
The standards have given us an excellent focus. Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District administered the AIMS for the first time last spring to grades 3, 5, and 8 and we showed amazing results. This district — with over half the students qualifying for the free or reduced-lunch program, 12 percent speaking a language other than English and 9 percent receiving some form of special education services — scored higher than the state average. We were pleased that our district did better than the state, but we know improvement is needed. Now that we have a clearer idea about the standards and how they relate to the AIMS we are working diligently to adjust our curriculum.
Beginning last summer and continuing into the fall teachers from kindergarten through eighth grade have been meeting to write specific performance objectives in reading, writing and math for each grade level.
These performance objectives state what students must demonstrate that they can do and therefore understand. Cottonwood-Oak Creek teachers are developing test and assessments that will tell the teacher if their students are meeting their grade-level goals.
Our teachers are excellent. Excellent teaching involves telling students in specific ways what they must learn, teaching them the necessary skills, informing them of how they will be assessed and then assessing.